Marine heat waves
Marine heat waves are periods of persistent anomalously warm ocean temperatures, which can have significant impacts on marine life as well as coastal communities and economies.
Years after the appearance of the devastating marine heat wave known as "the blob," scientists are still working to understand how it has affected the Salish Sea. In some ways, they say, it is like the blob never left.
Zooplankton are critical to the marine food web, but until recently there have been few surveys of the zooplankton community in Puget Sound. Ongoing monitoring is now revealing a system full of complexity and surprises. The following article was commissioned by the Habitat Strategic Initiative Lead (HSIL), a cross-agency team co-led by the Washington Departments of Fish and Wildlife and Natural Resources.
Were the islands half full of auklets or were they half empty? One scientist offers an insider's view of a newly published study of two Pacific seabird colonies. He says having good data for the paper was key, but finding the right title didn't hurt.
A 2023 paper in the journal Marine Ecology Progress Series examines seabird reproductive and dietary response to a severe marine heat wave affecting the California Current ecosystem from 2014 to 2016. The study involved rhinoceros auklet colonies on Destruction Island (California Current) and Protection Island (Salish Sea). The paper's first author Eric Wagner describes some of the findings from the study in this informal summary.
The Washington State Department of Ecology has reached one hundred Eyes Over Puget Sound reports. Since 2011, Ecology has provided aerial observations and documented visible features at the surface of Puget Sound from a floatplane. This unique perspective from the air featured Puget Sound's natural beauty, its oceanographic complexity, and its ecological treasures. It also raised awareness of the challenges that the water body is facing today. Our image-rich documentation of known eutrophication indicators ranges from algal and Noctiluca blooms to macroalgae, jellyfish, and human stressors. It provides a visually captivating time-capsule of issues facing Puget Sound. The report is rich in educational and outreach material, inspired numerous news reports, and drew academic and public attention during the period of marine heat wave of the north Pacific, The Blob.
The marine heat wave that struck the Pacific Ocean in late 2013 also caused large changes in temperature in the Salish Sea, but scientists are still puzzling over the impacts of those changes on Puget Sound's food web. The so-called "blob" of warmer than average water was thought to have increased the production of plankton, which potentially benefits creatures like herring and salmon that feed on the tiny organisms. A new paper in the journal Frontiers in Marine Science calls that interpretation into question, pointing to a computer model that links the cause to higher-than-normal river flows in the region.
A new report from the Puget Sound Ecosystem Monitoring Program details the effects of a changing climate on Puget Sound in 2019, and documents how these changes moved through the ecosystem to affect marine life and seafood consumers.
It’s no secret that salmon and other Northwest fish populations are expected to shrink as a result of a warming Pacific Ocean. But a new study suggests that the resulting decline in commercial fishing by 2050 could be twice as great as previously estimated by climate scientists.
Scientists are still trying to understand what caused the deaths of thousands of rhinoceros auklets in the Salish Sea in 2016. Some studies point to disease as a central factor in that incident and potentially other large seabird die-offs along the coast. That is prompting a deeper look at what makes these birds sick, and how local populations are faring. We followed a group of researchers as they gave a health checkup to a breeding colony of rhinoceros auklets on Protection Island.
They rival tropical forests in their richness and diversity, but Puget Sound's kelp beds have declined steeply in recent decades. Scientists are just starting to understand the extent of these losses. What they are finding is bringing kelp to the forefront of Puget Sound's environmental concerns.
A new report from the Puget Sound Ecosystem Monitoring Program says climate change altered the base of Puget Sound's food web in 2018, diminishing microscopic phytoplankton necessary for marine life. Scientists also observed lower abundances of fish, seabirds, and marine mammals.